Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Survivalist Horror In Alaska: The Grey Does Only What It Sets Out To Do!

The Good: Generally good plot development, Most of the performances are good
The Bad: No character development, Crap direction near the end
The Basics: With The Grey, Joe Carnahan delivers a (mostly) realistic narrative focused on the survival of a group of oil workers whose plane crashes in Alaska.

Lately, it seems like my wife has been getting me to watch a number of movies that are largely survivalist movies. It is not a genre that I have a fundamental desire to indulge in, and yet, my wife is a bit of a fan. After she admitted that the movie she was not generally thrilled with, Open Water (reviewed here!), was actually pretty terrible, but representative of the genre, she had us watch The Grey. After seeing a man vs. man-type survivalist movie with the new film Enemies Closer (reviewed here!), it struck me just how little variation there are in films where humans are hunted by animals as compared to humans being hunted by other humans.

The Grey is a marginally-interesting survival story, brought down some by the fact that none of the characters – including the lead protagonist, Ottway – are particularly likable or truly compelling. In fact, one of the most sympathetic and interesting characters, Hendrick, has almost none of the movie’s focus until almost the very end of the film. Hendrick is played ably by Dallas Roberts and it is a role unlike the others he has played, which makes him more of a chameleon actor than the film’s lead, Liam Neeson. Neeson, of course, is brilliant at Ottway, but considering he has to be dark, moody, and growl his way through most of the film while still articulating survival techniques in a credible way. Of course, the rough and tumble men around Ottway believe his strategies to survive; it’s Liam Neeson!

Ottway has isolated himself from society, working with ex-cons and others on an oil rig in Alaska while he pines for his wife. On the flight back to Anchorage, the small plane with the oil workers crashes. After one of the passengers, split open upon impact, dies and Ottway helps ease his passing, the survivors get together in the wreckage. Seven of the workers survive and under Ottway’s direction, they get a fire going. That night, Ottway tries to rescue the stewardess’s corpse from a wolf and is bit in the process. Concerned that they might have landed in the heart of the wolves territory, Ottway organizes the survivors to dispose of the corpses and find food.

After the first night, the wolves take out one of the survivors and Ottway recommends they move their encampment to the distant treeline. Hoping to survive better there, they begin the long trek across the frozen expanse. The straggler, a survivor who had been drinking the plane’s alcohol, is taken out and the five survivors are forced to continue toward the trees as night falls. Pursued by the wolves, the quintet survives and even kills a straggler wolf before the elements and the wolves start cutting them down. As they search for water and warmth, they struggle to outlast the environment and the predators.

Ottway versus the wolves is a conflict that is minimized whenever convenient to focus on man versus environment fights. The wolves are not constant antagonists and they even fall out of the viewer’s consideration given that they are neither seen, nor heard for chunks of the film as the survivors fight hunger, cold, and one another’s bad moods. As a result, the casualties in The Grey are not all the result of the wolves. Cold, falls, and possibly the worst luck ever account for a number of the deaths! The point of that not-quite-spoiler is that the film does not set up a strong adversary for the conflict and as a result, The Grey meanders with a realism of a true survival story.

Unfortunately, the survival elements are often undone by effects and performance elements that make the film seem far less realistic. None of the guys stutter from the cold, their bodies resist wind, but none seem truly fatigued (until the very last shots of the movie). In fact, there is a ridiculous quality to the men trudging side by side through the snow when it gets deep (why wouldn’t they go single file to better survive?!)?

The performances are good, but none are truly superlative because they do not truly sell the environment (though Dallas Roberts does an amazing job in his underwater scene). Liam Neeson plays Ottway as a supposedly bad man among other bad men, but he does not truly seem as rough and tumble as most of the other guys (who are pretty much summed up by an early scene featuring a pointless bar brawl).

Even so, The Grey is not horrible; it has some reasonable biological information on both humans and wolves. The situation, despite the mediocre acting, has an element of realism to it that is entertaining and interesting. Even so, the film lacks a compelling quality that would make it worth rewatching.

For other works with Dallas Roberts, please visit my reviews of:
The Walking Dead - Season Three
The L Word - Season Four
The L Word - Season Three
Walk The Line


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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